DMA-Delayed Best Practices Skirt Spam, Permission Issues

The e-mail marketing guidelines recently put on hold by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) avoid mentioning what spam is. They do not endorse opt-out as a standard, according to a final draft that IAR obtained.

Kevin Noonan, the executive director of the Association of Interactive Marketing (AIM), wrote in a cover note to Council for Responsible Email (CRE) members explaining the DMA made “significant changes” to the document, including deleting a spam definition.

The copy of the best practices document, dated June 30, was obtained from a source close to AIM. In nine pages, it outlines six steps e-mail marketers should take to ensure their legitimate e-mail marketing messages are not confused with spam.

Noonan’s note went on to say, “The DMA has promised us that it will place its full pr [sic] force behind its release. They have also promised a similar effort for the document’s accompanying press release.”

The full copy of the draft guidelines is available here.

The mostly dry document covers technical areas like list-hygiene requirements and bounce policies, as well as the best way to clearly avoid practices associated with spammers, such as harvesting e-mail addresses or using deceptive headers.

Two omissions are a definition of spam and the debate over opt-in and opt-out. The best practices do not even include the DMA’s favored definition of spam as fraudulently sent commercial e-mail, rather they just avoid the topic altogether.

The document tepidly supports opt-out. In the “consent” section, the best practices draft divides it into “affirmative consent” (forms of opt-in) and “consent” (opt-out). The guidelines do not endorse one method over the other, but do allow, “affirmative consent/permission will provide a more highly qualified level of permission from consumer and business individuals.”

The DMA’s alterations to the best practices guideline have angered many e-mail marketers, who are increasingly frustrated by what they characterize as the DMA’s ham-handed approach to forging an industry line against spam. Earlier this week, the DMA acknowledged it had shelved the long-awaited release of the e-mail best practices. It did not give the reasons for the “indefinite hold.”

The move caused Rapp Digital executive Ian Oxman, a co-chairman of the effort to draft the best practices, to quit AIM. Oxman accuses the DMA of torpedoing the work of its independent subsidiary by refusing to say spam is unsolicited commercial bulk e-mail and cites its refusal to come out in favor of an opt-in standard for e-mail marketing. Days later, Michael Mayor, president of NetCreations and head of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s e-mail committee, withdrew the IAB’s support of the best practices. He said the IAB committee would consider publishing them in their original form as industry guidelines.

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